Newcastle-under-Lyme named one of six Cities of Circus for 2018

Newcastle-under-Lyme will be a hub for circus celebrations in 2018 after being named as one of the six Cities of Circus by Circus250. The Philip Astley Project and The New Vic Theatre will lead events throughout the year designed to champion the legacy of local hero Philip Astley ‘the father of modern circus’, celebrate the phenomenon of the artform and further develop the town as a nationally recognised destination for drama, dance and circus. Newcastle-under-Lyme was chosen as a City of Circus by Circus250, the national organisation coordinating celebrations of the circus’ 250th anniversary.

The six Cities of Circus are Bristol, Blackpool, Norwich and Great Yarmouth, Newcastle-under-Lyme, London, and Belfast.

The Philip Astley Project will host a series of talks held ‘In Conversation’ with Andrew Van Buren, an exhibition Philip Astley His Life and Legacy held at the Brampton Museum, and a short circus film season at the Stoke Film Theatre.

Students from Staffordshire University’s Drama courses will also take part in performances inspired by Philip Astley at The Brampton Museum in May. Rob Marsden, Associate Professor of Acting and Directing, said: “We are delighted to be involved with this initiative as a Department and as a University. Students will be working closely with the Brampton Museum to research, rehearse and create characters based on real people living and working with the Philip Astley family. As a connected university, Staffordshire students will work in a real-world environment for this launch event.”

In addition, Dr Carmel Thomason, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Staffordshire University, will research aspects of Philip Astley’s story to create a Resource Pack for community groups to continue learning about Astley beyond 2018.

Philip Astley was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1742 to a local cabinetmaker. In 1759, he joined the 15th Light Dragoons, the first Light Cavalry Regiment of the British Army and was later chosen to be instructed in a new method of riding. He drew out the very first circus ring in 1768 and 42 feet remains the standard size of circus ring used around the world. From his initial experimentations, Astley went on to develop circus as we know it today, forever putting Newcastle-under-Lyme on the national map as the birthplace of the father of modern circus.

Andrew Van Buren, of the Van Buren Organisation and Philip Astley Project said: “I am so pleased that after years of my family campaigning to gain Philip Astley greater recognition, his name, life, and his vast legacy is finally being celebrated on a global scale during 2018. Working alongside a number of partners that form the Philip Astley Project, including Staffordshire University, plus with the help of Heritage Lottery Funding, we are truly putting Philip Astley into the public eye. So few realise that this son of Newcastle-under-Lyme was not only a war hero, but also the original ringmaster and father of the modern day circus. For Newcastle-under-Lyme and circus, Astley is our Shakespeare.”

For Newcastle-under-Lyme and circus, Astley is our Shakespeare.

In 2015, the Philip Astley Project was awarded a National Lottery grant of £167,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to commemorate the achievements of Astley. The Philip Astley Project is managed by Staffordshire University on behalf of a steering group of arts, heritage, statutory and educational institutions working in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and beyond.

The New Vic, supported by Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence programme, will produce Circus Past, Present and Future, a season of work celebrating the remarkable artform in its anniversary year. Circus Past, Present and Future will see the theatre-in-the-round produce a brand new play in July written by Staffordshire-born Frazer Flintham. Astley’s Astounding Adventures will be directed by Artistic Director Theresa Heskins and will combine the thrill of the circus with the uniqueness of theatre-in-the-round.


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